The Largest Shop
This is a sequel to my story "The Smallest Shop," published in issue 406. It would be best if you read that first. :)
“I’m sorry, honey.” Lilith looked down sadly. “We just haven’t gotten enough business lately.”
“But since Gemma started helping us... we made so much more money! We were in the marketplace!” cried a small Kougra. “We still are! You had the money to paint me Tyrannian...!”
“We just can’t afford to keep the shop running,” Lilith replied quietly. “Believe me, Alexandria, I did everything in my power to keep it up. But I added a few numbers wrong and spent too much on upgrading the shop.” She shrugged helplessly, looking down through her old frameless glasses. She was thirteen, almost fourteen, still young enough to make a mistake and be forgiven without any grudges held against her. Alexandria knew this, knew that she should give up.
But she couldn’t. Lilith had told her over and over that they were both fighters. They would do whatever they could to keep their tiny shop running, to keep customers coming in and out of the doors each day. Alex had fought at first, sure. Just a few months ago she’d hated working in the shop. But since Lilith’s neofriend’s Shoyru, Gemma, had started working in the shop, so much had changed.
Lilith pondered this as she kneeled down to look into Alex’s eyes. This was the kind of thing they’d have expected back when they were one of the smallest shops in Neopia. Not now, when they were one of the biggest.
“It’s not fair,” Alex murmured. And then, looking back at Lilith, “Have you told Gemma yet?”
Lilith shook her head. “I wasn’t sure how to tell her. She won’t handle it well, knowing that we’re going out of business... she’s poured her blood and sweat into this shop, and she loves it.”
Alexandria was silent, fighting back tears. Though her recent paint job made her look fierce, inside she was still rather soft and compassionate, just like she had always been.
Lilith patted her back sympathetically. “Why don’t you go to bed,” she suggested quietly. And the Tyrannian Kougra left without another word.
“...So she added wrong, spent too much on upgrading, and now we’re going out of business.” Alexandria hung her head. Gemma just stared.
“No way! She’d really have to have added wrong to do that. We’re raking in at least a hundred thousand every day!” the Striped Shoyru replied in disbelief. “I mean, you are.”
Alex shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
Gemma placed her hands on her hips, cocked her head, and looked her friend in the eye. “Look, Alexandria, stop it. You always give up too easily, you know that? Heck, in the beginning, it only took a few smiles and suddenly the shop was a lot of fun for you.”
“Yeah, well, it was you who brought in that money we used for the Notice Board that made us popular.” Alexandria leaned against the back of her house.
“Alex!” Gemma was getting frustrated. “Come on! You’re a fighter. Any pet with really sharp fangs is a fighter. We can’t just give up.”
Alex sighed. “Gemma, it’s a paint job. Fangs don’t make me a fighter.”
“But they do! And it’s not just that, either. Come on. How can we fight here?”
“You have to spend more neopoints to make more neopoints,” Alexandria pointed out. “And we don’t have any to spend.”
Just then the door swung open and Lilith stepped out. Her pet whipped around. “Mom, how much exactly did you spend on upgrading? Because that’s what...” She stopped.
Lilith got down on one knee so as to be at eye level with Alex. “Do you know how much it costs to upgrade our shop even by one size? For five more items? Somewhere around three hundred thousand neopoints.” She paused to let this sink in. “It costs another fifty thousand, on average, to fill up our shop every day. Now, normally we can make that back, but not now. We’re going out of business. Just accept it, Alex. Please.” And with that she stood up and walked away, leaving both pets at a loss for words.
“I have an ide-a.” Gemma danced in, singing, as Alexandria was writing in block letters on a sign, GOING OUT OF BUSINESS – HUGE SALE.
“What is it, then?” Alex asked without looking up.
Gemma’s tail pointed upward, like it always did when she was excited. “Well, you know when I first came to work here? How we restocked that Baby Xweetok Plushie together? Well, I asked Rachel if I could sell it, and she said yes!”
“Rachel? Your owner? She said you could sell it?” Alexandria gasped. “The same Rachel who has three thousand-something items in her Safety Deposit Box, and never sells even the most worthless of them? THAT Rachel?”
“That Rachel.” Gemma smiled widely. “I checked the Trading Post already, and it’s selling for four hundred thousand neopoints! Enough to keep you in business!” She danced around some more.
Momentarily speechless, Alex managed, “Oh, Gemma, that’s just the sweetest thing...”
“I’ll go run home and get it.” Gemma grinned, and Alex jumped off the couch she had been sitting on. She nodded, and then ran downstairs, shouting.
“Mom! Mom! Guess what?”
Gemma kneeled over her locked toy chest, digging to the bottom very carefully. At last she found that prized Xweetok plushie, and she pulled it out tenderly, like an owner would handle a newly-created pet. Suddenly she let out a whoop of joy, and skipped out the door and into the shops of Neopia Central, taking the fastest route possible to Alex’s house.
Then the unthinkable happened.
In the blink of an eye, a flash of blue swept down from the sky. Gemma didn’t realize what had happened for a moment: one minute she was happily going over to Alex’s with the plushie cradled in her arms, and the next she had fallen over backwards, hands empty. And above her head, the Pant Devil cackled evilly.
“You can’t be serious!”
“Do you think I would joke about something like this?” Gemma huffed. She spread her arms, as if to prove that she didn’t have the Baby Xweetok Plushie.
“But how the heck do we get that back from the Pant Devil?” Alexandria’s eyes were wide.
“Get what back from the Pant Devil?” And Lilith entered curiously, cocking her head to one side. The hurried explanation from both pets barely shocked her. In fact, she looked exhausted.
“Alex. Gemma. Listen to me. We’re going out of business. We’re not continuing – that’s why we’re having a clearance sale, that’s why there’s that big sign in the window saying we’re closing – please, just drop it.”
Alexandria pounced. “Well, you sure seem happy.”
“You have no idea how much work this is,” her owner shot back. “I’m the one who stocks the shelves, I’m the one who pays the Notice Board fees, I’m the one who has to price a hundred items every day. You two just go out and get the items while I’m asking the poor Shop Wizard how much a hundred and fifty different things cost!”
Gemma was a bit taken aback, but not so much that she couldn’t reply. “But I thought you loved working in a shop!”
“I did,” Lilith replied bitterly. “But I’m tired of it. Just tired.”
“Well,” Alex chimed in with crescendo, “how else are we supposed to make money if you’re SHUTTING DOWN OUR ONLY SOURCE OF NEOPOINTS?”
And it dropped like a bomb in the room, leaving all three of them – although they’d never admit it – feeling completely and utterly helpless.
“Rachel! Rachel, are you home? Rachel...!”
“I’m here,” called a muffled voice, and a girl who looked about seventeen speed-walked over to the front door. She smiled sternly when she realized that it was only her young Shoyru at the door. “You call me ‘Mom,’ get it?” But she really wasn’t mad.
“Sorry – Mom – it’s an emergency,” Gemma babbled. “I was going to Alex’s house with the plushie, and well...”
She relayed the information for the third time, quickly. When she was finished, Rachel looked thoughtful.
“It stinks about the plushie,” she said, “but let’s see what we can do.” Then a spark of light shone in her eyes. “Wait, I’ve got an idea. Has Lilith heard of Key Quest...?”
“Three hundred twenty-fifth time’s the charm?” Alexandria begged her gold key, but she was smiling. Gemma laughed.
“Oh, c’mon, we can’t have redeemed more than seventy-five!”
Alex handed her key to Bree, the Key Quest faerie, and she slowly unlocked the door. The faerie stood in front of it, blocking their view.
“It’s...” She stopped after opening the gold door.
“What? What?” shouted the two pets eagerly.
“IT’S A GIANT MEEPIT!” And they jumped back, startled, but Bree was laughing. “Just kidding, it’s your prizes. Oh, what’s this?” And with a wink to Alex: “You got lucky this time, little lady.” Then a sweep of her hand, and the prizes had tumbled down into the young Kougra’s arms.
“Alriiight!” yelled Alexandria. And Gemma nodded.
“You’d best carry it home, in case the Pant Devil strikes again for me.”
“My mom prob’ly won’t keep the shop open,” Alex replied. “Actually, I doubt she will. But we should stick this on the Trading Post instead, anyway...!”
And they ran to Alex’s house together, with the sunlight reflecting off the dripping Faerie Paint Brush as the Kougra clutched it like she’d never, ever let go.